Chapter One - Plot and Cast
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IT moves past us like a ritual procession of priests and dancers. Education is the life of a civilization, always religious at heart, linking present truth to far or farthest ideals, its traditions cherished and guarded, innovations held back by elemental fears. Here in Carlisle there is no sharp beginning to the tale. It had come upon that steady current of learning and love of learning, powerful, intolerant, eager, disputatious, subtly and sapiently devout, swept by contradictions and mystical longing, flowing out from Scotland to Ireland and America. Here was Christian doctrine speaking in the language and sophistry of the ancient pagan world, as it had done in the universities of Paris and Bologna centuries before. It belonged with the Continent, this Scottish erudition, far more than with Britain's Oxford and Cambridge which, in those early years, it greatly surpassed in efficiency and vigor.1

Even before county and town, Cumberland and Carlisle, had been set apart in 1751, classical learning was there with the Presbyterian congregations. Its story in this frontier village was much the same as elsewhere, then and later—first, a learned pastor taking pupils, then a grammar school regularly organized under pastoral auspices and applying, in time, for the presbytery's supervision and support and the blessing of the annual synod. Here boys from ten into their teens would learn the Latin and Greek languages, the basis of all formal education. They might study also other branches of learning, mathematics,

geography, surveying or navigation, and perhaps have some instruction in logic, criticism, philosophy and, surely, "moral philosophy," the application of sound doctrine to right living. Philosophy was on the level of higher education, and the boy who had taken it might enter college with advanced standing, perhaps win his degree in a year. A school with such a curriculum was only a step away from degree-granting status. The grammar school, in what became an almost universal American pattern, would remain as an adjunct of the college. It made possible the acceptance of boys who might wander in, as they did, from distant parts and at any time of the year. If badly prepared in the languages they need only be assigned to the school until ready. The American college term ranged from two to four years—three on an average—but with their preliminary school work most boys would be on campus for a longer period.

The school at Carlisle, at the time of its first acquisition of land, March 3, 1773, had been open and organized, complete with master, board of trustees and board of visitors, certainly since 1769—and for ten years before that had been in existence as the usual educational function of every established Presbyterian congregation. When Dickinson College received its charter, September 9, 1783, that combined operation of school and college came into being—to continue, with ups and downs, until 1917. The new College took over school and schoolhouse and absorbed the school's trustees into its own enlarged board. This was a forward step combining a glow of religious fervor with all the stars and light of patriotism. It had the force of a prophetic personal expression in the voice of Benjamin Rush, physician, teacher, politician. The long war was ending then and Americans, free and victorious, were turning with a surge of triumph to the future. Dr. Rush had signed the Declaration, marched with the army, and now stood determined that the Revolution must go on toward a greater, a wholly American, consummation.2  His new college, far to the west "over Susquehanna," would be a first foundation stone, and he gathered about him like-minded trustees, men of God, soldiers, men of business and the law, to carry forward the plan.

Regard now the trustee, promoter and patron of education.

In Europe, schools consisted of teachers and students. Educated gentlemen might hold positions of concern, might be invited to appear at examinations (always oral) to make sure that the sophistication of the coming generation equalled their own. But in crossing the wide Atlantic the campus had acquired this third element, more prestigious and powerful than the other two. Here the trustee was far more than a prototype for the young. These gentlemen raised the funds and managed them. They not only had oversight of the educational program, but planned and managed it, curriculum included, hiring and dismissing teachers, regulating student behavior to the last detail if they so chose. Much has been written of "trustee interference" in American colleges of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, with Dickinson, Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania cited as outstanding examples of the evil.3  Distrust of the teacher was implicit in their role. Distrust of the student was expressed in restrictive regulations covering every moment of his time. These trustees held an authority conferred upon them by law, and acted with a sense of duty akin to religious faith. The charge of "interference" would have surprised them very much.

The charter of Dickinson College admitted no member of the faculty to the deliberations of the Board. Gradually, however, in the first half century of its history we see the Board seeking faculty advice (though never accepting it without amendment), sparingly beginning to delegate some few powers, and then even calling in the faculty for consultation. Meetings were small in these early years—often with only nine members, a bare quorum. Clergymen formed the most learned part. The others who came to meetings were town and county aristocracy with a provincial elegance and sophistication akin to the neighboring culture of the South. These families were patrons of the theater and encouraged the boys to perform, though faculty and clerical trustees frowned upon it. Play-acting and much else in the open field of life and learning would be stifled by that wave of fundamentalist revivalism which swept America, at its height from 1790 to 1830, a reaction against the eighteenth century Enlightenment which profoundly affected the colleges.

Religious influences, active in one way or another in them all, have given Dickinson elements of dichotomy and disturb-

ance from the first. Dr. Rush, taking over a Presbyterian school, counted his College as a Presbyterian institution. He needed an established organization from which to draw students, political support, money. Yet he saw public financing as essential and soon learned that the College must be non-denominational to get that. Dickinson's equivocation of being "non-sectarian" under sectarian "auspices" has a long history. More—Presbyterianism had been split by George Whitefield's revivals of the 1740's into "Old Side" and "New Side," a rancorous division present at Carlisle throughout.

That division was a major factor in the transfer of the College to Methodist control in 1833. The old Board resigned, a new Board took over. No nonsense of it-is-and-it-isn't now—this was to be a Methodist college. And yet—though upon a quite different register of heat and light—the Methodists were also of two minds. The new Board and the faculty it appointed belonged to a new and young minority with intellectual ideals. The Church as a whole, massive in size and growing ever larger on a wide wave of emotion, distrusted intellectual "coldness," held classical learning in very low regard and would have no truck whatever with any notion of an educational standard for its ministry. Here, obviously, is the reason why the new trustees of Dickinson kept the independence which the charter gave them, making one change only, that the President of the College should also be President of the Board.

That arrangement lasted until 1912, when an amendment put through by the Board's youngest and most progressive member, Boyd Lee Spahr, restored the office John Dickinson had held. By then the alert and partisan intellectualism of the first Methodist faculty was a thing of the past. The Methodist conferences were deploring their slender hold upon the College under its charter. Alumni were deploring the College's failure to keep pace with its contemporaries. Boyd Lee Spahr envisioned a Dickinson rivalling the best small colleges of the East, and there can be no doubt that he regarded his action as a first step in an escape from a built-in parochialism. In 1931 he himself was elected President of the Board, where he would continue, annually reelected, for thirty-one years.

It has a unique quality of drama, this career. An intense af-

fection and pride runs through it all—intelligent, humorous, carried along by a fullness of knowledge of the campus, its history, almost every aspect of its life. By his knowledge and his large giving he dominated the Board, working with representative committees but controlling almost every decision. He was the first to bring to his colleagues' startled attention the new concept of trusteeship as imposing a duty of personal generosity. Too long had they thought of themselves only as guardians of the temple. Some continued to do so, but the coming of Spahr to the presidency brought fresh vigor to Board and campus. He pressed for advances, yet with caution and compromise. He was a conservative of the protective, constructive sort. Inevitably, in time, he became more remote from educators and educational trends at Dickinson or elsewhere, more defensive, more legalistic in control. Voices were raised in protest, just as his own had been against ministerial dominance. When the ultimate crisis came his leadership was unimpeachable under the charter of 1783 but clashed sharply with widely approved practices of 1956. A new President—as usual, a Spahr choice—inherited the conflict of Dickinson College administration against American Association of University Professors, and was enabled by it, at long last, to accomplish that liberation which Spahr himself had set out, so long before, to achieve.

Benjamin Rush had publicly excoriated the reverend Provost of the University of Pennsylvania as a drunkard and sower of vice. The Doctor judged with severity those who did not accept his own opinions. The Presidents of Dickinson must be—and were—subject to control. Exclusion from trustee meetings tied their hands effectively. In the little American colleges of that day the president was only the most eminent of a small group of teachers, presiding at commencement, doing all the routine administrative work, meeting the Seniors in their classes in Moral Philosophy. Without a voice in policy, and subject to abrupt orders from on high, the position had little to commend it.

All this changed dramatically under the Methodist regime. The President of the College as President of the Board could dominate its affairs. Some did so. Yet only too soon church politics entered in. Methodism was compounded of strong emo-

tion on the one hand, tight organization on the other. The College became involved in the system. Pressures to seal it in were sustained through the years by emotion. Charles Francis Himes, devoted alumnus of 1855, brilliant and beloved professor, could win only belated, half-hearted support in planning a modern curriculum, and his brief career as Acting President was quickly terminated in favor of a clergyman. He resigned from the faculty seven years later, frustrated and embittered. Boyd Lee Spahr may well have had Himes, a fraternity brother, in mind in his search for an escape from this baleful influence. Certainly—though not always with success—he sought presidents who would be acceptable to the church group and yet above church politics. He and his fellow trustees faced these and other problems with scarcely a thought of faculty acceptance, and never dreaming that faculty might ultimately play a decisive role.

Trustees sit enthroned. They wear the crown of altruism. They are sceptred and successful men. Teachers have been altruistic largely in their willingness to work for little pay and that, as the world sees it, is not a sign of success. "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." Theirs is a profession still often invaded as well as dominated by outsiders, yet out of the trustee-faculty relationship, out of great purposes shared together in a sort of connubial unease, has come the teaching profession as it stands today in our country. The theologue turned pedagogue is a familiar spectacle in history, feckless at times, at times superlative. At his worst in those early years he had a fear and distrust of learning. "The very cultivation of the mind has frequently a tendency to impair the moral sensibilities, to induce that pride of conscious ability and variety of attainments which . . . are . . . affectations offensive to God." Or, more succinctly, "Without religion a college is a curse to society."4 Devout laity readily accepted the view which Noah Webster put before them at the laying of the first cornerstone at Amherst, that the primary aim and hope of education is "to reclaim and evangelize the miserable children of Adam."5  It all sustained the ritualistic character of the curriculum of those years. From desk, as from pulpit, reverent acceptance must come. Learning must substan-

tiate faith and loyalty. The textbook appears, a gospel, reflecting like the moon a pale light of divine authority.

Yet the Protestant ministry is inherently a teaching profession, concerned with learning and with human values. As the teacher developed a professional status of his own these concerns remained, and educational theory and practice took shape with the profession. It begins with that appalling emphasis on discipline, accompanied by the elimination of every corrupting amusement. Discipline was the key to everything, and "mental discipline" its inner core. "Mental discipline" developed and exercised what were thought to be the twelve separately constituted "faculties of the mind."6 Success, then as now, depended more on the character of the individual teacher than on the theory, his wisdom and independence more strongly reflected than the abstract principle. Theory will change while practice stands. The educator of today may talk of the primacy of "learning to learn" in a world of rapidly advancing knowledge, and decry packing the mind with facts of transient importance. Yet we find virtually the same idea put forward again and again a century and more ago, as, for instance, by such an experienced and sensitive professional as Dickinson's Alexander McClelland, Professor of Rhetoric, Metaphysics and Ethics, 1822 to 1829:

He aimed to impart to his students his own enthusiasm. He gave young men the secrets of mental discipline, imparted to them a mastery over their own minds; and instead of storing them with their own acquisitions, sought rather to train them to habits of patient and persevering investigation for themselves; and thus put them in the way of making continued acquisitions while life should last.7

McClelland was at Dickinson at the time of the famous "Yale Report," President Jeremiah Day's declaration in defense of the established pattern of classical study and moral orthodoxy, Christ and the pagan authors in a traditional, and interesting, conjunction. Dickinson's President Mason had already affirmed it: "Experience has shown that with the study or neglect of the Greek and Latin languages, sound learning flourishes or declines. It is now too late for ignorance, indolence, eccentricity or infidelity to dispute what has been ratified by the seal of

ages."8 The Yale Report would set a standard of inert respectability for American colleges everywhere.

Yet this was also the Jacksonian era of rough, practical democracy. Publicly-supported education on the lower levels would come in the 1830's, with Pennsylvania a leader and the little community of Carlisle in a front position too. John Price Durbin's young Methodist faculty was opening professional careers to the boys of what had been a working-class denomination. These young men took moral philosophy away from the Scottish philosophers to Paley and Butler, but that core purpose of the Scottish tradition, to give the student specific knowledge and the ability to apply it, was kept intact. They also were influenced by Yale, but were too intelligent to accept any pattern out of hand. They were looking for what the eighteenth century Philadelphia educators had sought, what Thomas Jefferson had called a "useful American education"—classics, to be sure, but also modern languages, mathematics, history, ethics, natural history and a "natural philosophy" which would include chemistry and agriculture.9  Dickinson had a standard of science teaching set by Thomas Cooper in 1811. This new faculty had Spencer Fullerton Baird, with his immense knowledge and verve, his innovation of field trips as a part of his course, and it had Charles Francis Himes.

Himes had a background of study in Germany. Dickinson faculty and students had long been aware of the lure of the German universities, the new emphasis on research, the new ideal of pure scholarship. Dickinson had been one of the first to introduce elective studies, breaking away from the concept of a fixed, perfected, immutable "course of study" for all comers. Dickinson's trustees, of course, were less open to suggestion, and some professors went about their affairs with an answering quietude. There were those to whom the occasional religious revival gave an ample, if illusory, sense of progress. With the last years of the nineteenth century we can begin to measure faculty competence in advanced degrees, though this, too, can be illusory. So many of the best of the old-timers had their bachelor's only, and President Charles Nisbet, for all his years at the University of Edinburgh, had not even bothered to take that. The Ph.D. first appears as an honorary with Himes and Morgan, and

then, with the rise of the American universities, becomes the mark of the professional—though there were still mavericks like Mulford Stough to bring in the freshness and independence of the amateur.

Throughout this long chronicle, too, one can measure competence in terms of faculty-student rapport. All Dickinson history is sprinkled with bizarre disciplinary cases, but in the years of an intellectually alert faculty the relationship is, on the whole, warm and close. In an era of intellectual stagnation faculty and students are at odds, even virtually at war. But the students were more than a reflection. This necessary but rarely respected element of the College community had been a power from the first, and aware of it.

Students of the eighteenth century, quite as well as those of the twentieth, knew when their tuition fees made the difference between solvency and disaster. They had brought the haughty Board of Trustees to heel in the spring of 1794, and again in the strike of November 7, 1798. In this history we see student pressures in two aspects. In one mood, the mood of that strike, they are out to make the road to the degree as short and easy as possible. In the other, an opposite and reasonable view, they demand an education tailored to the careers they have in prospect. But to the historian, any strong pressures from this third estate may always be taken as a sign of weakness in the other two—lacklustre classes, dead-pan social regulations, an unstable treasury.

Charles Nisbet, heading the first Dickinson College faculty, found American students very different from those he had known in Scotland. There he had seen them crowding the universities to earn by hard work and privation a place in the professional class. These young Americans from indulgent families were sure of their future livelihoods and unenthusiastic about drudgery for a degree which was by no means necessary to success. In their growing nation class distinctions meant little to anyone. They had small reverence for constituted authority, in College or elsewhere—and must have been drawn to Nisbet on that score as well as by his learning and wit. "The public men here," the Doctor would observe, "are a set of mean rogues

generally."10 To his trustees Nisbet was a perennial calamity, but, measured by the success of his students in afterlife, his performance as a teacher was superb, his presence at the College its one sure title to fame.

On the whole, however, though these students were teenagers at the unruly stage of adolescence, they reflected the safe opinions of their parents and teachers. They were addressed by their professors as "Gentlemen," or "Mr. So-and-so," and yet, after the establishment of dormitory life about 1810, faced a harsher "parental" rule than most of them had ever known before. The activities of every hour were scheduled. American college regulations might have been made for prisoners, or soldiers in barracks. Dr. Benjamin Rush, a warm humanitarian on every count and firmly opposed to the dormitory system, even considered a sort of uniform, varying with each class, not to encourage an esprit de corps, but so that delinquents might be easily recognized.

Many of the boys coming to Carlisle were from the South, a large enough proportion to influence all the others. They were impatient of restraint, with pervading romantic dreams and a sharply defined sense of honor. Moving from preparatory school to college, the boys had outgrown physical restraints, and the trustees had ready for their government a system of trials imposing fines and other forms of retribution, with the faculty expected to act as detective, constabulary and prosecutor, but themselves remaining as an ultimate, often merciful, court of appeal. The faculty on their part knew the greater effectiveness of gentle rebuke and appeal to reason, and eventually succeeded in having these written into the laws as a first recourse. Nisbet, a notoriously mild disciplinarian, had also applied with marked effect that stinging sarcastic wit which trustees themselves had learned to fear.

The most significant feature of student life in Nisbet's day and for more than a century after was the literary society. Belles Lettres was founded in 1786, and Union Philosophical three years later. They had American antecedents, Princeton's Cliosophic and Whig of 1769 and 1770, William and Mary's Phi Beta Kappa of 1776 and others. Like the University of Edinburgh's Speculative Society, founded in 1764, they were an

excellent training ground for lawyers and other public men. Other new colleges adopted the idea, and these student groups became the most vital and stimulating thing in the American educational process, evoking more loyalty, effort and enthusiasm than anything else. Here was a link to the world around the students not to be found in their studies. In the society halls the members were their own masters, imposed their own rules and penalties, debated the issues of the day from the broadest down even to so touchy a commonplace as the competence of one of their teachers. Here, within the walls, was a measure of effective student government which might well have been encouraged and extended.

Here, too, was a link to the public eagerly sought and much enjoyed. Their "exhibitions" drew appreciative crowds of old and young. It was all part of that emphasis upon oratory which pervaded every level of American education from Colonial times on through the early years of the republic. The culture of the whole age was vocal, its authors writing to be read aloud, its poets to be declaimed. A sermon, a political debate, a lecture, would always draw an audience of connoisseurs in the niceties of platform eloquence. Even examinations, always oral, fitted the pattern, and the final proof of the earned degree was each student's commencement oration.

The eventual decline of the literary societies is one of the sad notes in this lively chronicle. Trustees and faculty, watchful and suspicious, increasingly asserted their authority over them, as over every other aspect of student life. Any assertion of power invites the rise of countervailing forces. Since about the time of the Yale Report, a new student movement had been rooted and spreading—the social fraternities. They reached Carlisle in their insidious growth just at mid-century, greeted here as elsewhere by official alarm and condemnation. Unlike the clubs of the eighteenth century or the literary societies of the nineteenth, they had no intellectual purpose. With their vows of secrecy and arcane rituals, they defied for many years the efforts of faculty to give them one. Their Greek-letter symbols mocked the classicism imposed by academic authority. These were now the Greeks among the barbarians, the charmed and mystic inner circles of brotherhood.

The fraternities brought a happy solidarity to student life. War with the faculty from these unassailable bastions became a joyous thing, and in Dickinson's archives the student damage accounts alone give impressive evidence of its lively character. Dickinson's official ban on fraternities has never been repealed. Tacit and then open recognition came as fraternity men moved into the alumni and then the faculty. By the turn of the century they were an established, and then a necessary, element in institutional functioning—and made subject as the old societies had been to faculty regulation.

The fraternities had changed the whole tempo of college life. Students were coming to Carlisle as elsewhere with the good times in view, the games, pranks, music, fights and fanfare. Formerly the liberal arts colleges had languished in comparison to the professional schools, whose student rosters were regularly filled. Now these pleasures had added a new value to the college degree—the fraternity pin, the close continuance of college friendships. Faculty might feel qualms as they watched the burgeoning extracurriculum, but college administrators soon sensed what it could do for the school. They became tolerant of the pranks, the damage, and they rejoiced in the hilarity of returning, and contributing, alumni.

The American college of the first half of the twentieth century, with its euphoria of brotherhood, love, gaiety, athletic prowess, class rivalries, violent repression of the neophyte, is a far cry from the ideal of those who had founded and tried to shape the system. All this had come from the students themselves, and much of the substantial development of the curriculum as well. The scholarly student, with a blatant anti-intellectualism all around him, had exerted effective pressures of his own. Intrinsic change, the decline of the fraternities, the fusion of the whole into a coherent community with a new unity of ideals—these have come from student initiatives after years of educators' futile effort.

The new academic scene, welcomed by professors, accepted by alumni and trustees, remains one part of all that had gone before. Here is only a widening and deepening of currents as ancient as the rivers, flowing through all history, joining earth

and Eden in unfolding truth. The voices of the past are in its air. Strongholds of quiet exploration, of impartial searching and informed controversy cannot be built in a day. Our founders are with us still. Dr. Rush had set up, in a lonely village by a ruined fort, a new bastion where learning was to stand inviolate. "Tuta libertas, " John Dickinson had called it then—"a bulwark of liberty."11 Yet the Doctor, with his strange compound of augury, anger and tough observation, would have been looking forward to more than a fortress—to aggressive thought and action, to a community of scholars where learning is both imparted and created, a living progression, free and imperishable.




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